Forced labour in the British prison system is to be massively increased by Tory Home Secretary Ken Clarke.
Currently, 10,000 prisoners are forced to work 40 hours a week across the six working prisons in the UK. This year Ken Clarke plans to double the number of 'idle' prisoners forced into work as they are a ‘wasted resource’.
The prisoners will be working for private companies. One firm has even transferred work from India to UK prisons because the costs are lower.
Prisoners do not get paid cash, they receive credits which they spend on controlled items available from inside prison such as toothpaste, tobacco and chocolate.
Prisoners who work ‘regular’ prison jobs earn between £4 and £17 a week with a national average of £10. The Justice Secretary’s plan to put prisoners to work offers the prisoners the opportunity to increase their wages to the national minimum of £5.60 an hour.
However, Clarke’s plans reveal that the prisoners will actually only receive around £20 week and the rest of the money will be split; some will be held by the prison governor, some paid into the new Victims Fund and the rest will be used to pay for the prison service.
The UK’s leading provider of five private prisons, G4S, have launched their 'Working Prisons: Working People' campaign to entice the private business community into getting involved in working prisons. Their campaign highlights the benefits to business of using a committed workforce with low wages and benefits as secure and commercially viable.
At HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, G4S is working with the engineering firm Norpro, who have converted three former metal-workshops into a factory floor.
Over 25 prisoners run the factory producing huge amounts of high quality office furniture at low costs. According to G4S the scheme has been so cost effective that work previously done in India has been brought back to the UK.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Ken Clarke said: ‘The public wants a penal system that properly punishes offenders, and protects the law-abiding citizen […] Right now, prisoners are simply a wasted resource – thousands of hours of manpower sitting idle.’
Clarke’s plans have inspired concern that low-wage prison labour will have a knock-on effect on wages elsewhere in the economy and drive up unemployment, especially among young males.
For more information on forced labour in UK prisons see the Campaign Against Prison Slavery website.
Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.
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